FORMER UK Champion Jockey Seb Sanders denied being unprofessional in riding without boots at Goodwood recently to make the right weight but drew criticism from both trainers and punters over the controversial move.
Sanders, who gave up his only ride at Bath on Wednesday after informing the course he had broken down on the motorway, admitted he made the decision to discard his normal race footwear on Tuesday after arriving at the course too late for a sauna to shed enough weight to ride Langley Vale, on whom he was allotted to carry 59kg.
Without wearing a pair of boots, which typically weigh between 0.2 and 0.4kg, Sanders rode in his stockinged feet in what was a first in modern British racing history.
Defending his decision, the 43-year-old said: “I wasn’t being unprofessional, but I turned the television on this morning and it’s gone bonkers. I got held up getting to Goodwood and didn’t have time for a sweat so I left the boots off to make the weight. That’s all it was and I think a mountain’s been made out of a molehill.”
Sanders broke no BHA rules but his actions attracted widespread unease from punters on social media and trainer Rae Guest said: “I love Seb and he is struggling at the moment like a lot of jockeys and not getting the rides I think he deserves and maybe he’s trying to make a point. I wouldn’t have let him ride like that and I don’t think it was fair on the trainer. You wouldn’t let a lad ride like that at home.”
That view was shared by James Fanshawe who said: “If I had a favourite and the jockey came out like that then I wouldn’t be happy and I’m not sure the owners would be either. If it was more of an outsider I guess that would be different, but I’m still not sure it would go down that well.”
Sanders, who had been due to ride Wowee for trainer Tony Carroll at Bath, shared the jockeys’ title with Jamie Spencer in 2007 and has ridden more than 100 winners in nine other years, but has so far had just 12 successes this season from fewer than 140 mounts and has not ridden a horse carrying less than 58,5kg in the past fortnight.
Trainer Hughie Morrison said: “I can’t imagine it was very comfortable to ride like that. I know a lot of riders have very thin boots that can feel like they’re wearing nothing, so if it feels the same as that I can understand it. I think I’d prefer to see my rider wearing boots, though.”
But trainer John Flint said: “If Zola Budd can run with no shoes, why not? If his feet are hard enough and it doesn’t inconvenience him and he can ride a pound lighter, fair play. We all laughed when Zola Budd did it, but then two or three others copied her. I wouldn’t encourage my riders to do it but I wouldn’t have a problem if they did.”
In explaining that no regulations had been broken, the BHA said that although jockeys are required to wear certain safety equipment, including body protectors and helmets, the rules do not extend to footwear.
While a first in modern British racing, Sanders’ move is not unique.
Last November French jockey Pierre-Charles Boudot rode without boots when Noir Garcon finished runner-up in a two-year-old newcomers’ race in Japan, having weighed out without them to make the required 55kg weight. Boudot told the Tokyo stewards, “We often do it in France”, but was reprimanded for his actions.
Irish jockeys tempted to follow Sanders’ example will not find anything in the rule book to stop them. However, Denis Egan, chief executive of the Turf Club, suggested that stance could change should bootless riders became a trend.
“It isn’t against the rules to ride in Ireland without wearing boots,” said Egan. “There is nothing to actually stop them from doing it, but I think the medical officer would have a problem with it on safety grounds.”
Originally published on www.racingpost.com